Saturday, February 11, 2006

A Brief Intro to Non-Violent Resistance

A Brief Introduction to the Theory of Non-Violent Resistance
Part I
(with apologies to Starhawk)

by Sadie B.

We begin with an assumption – the world is not okay the way it is. There are times when it is necessary to struggle.

What I propose to demonstrate to you is that non-violent resistance is a legitimate and effective answer to the problem of injustice.

So what is non-violent resistance?

We’ll start with the resistance part of the construction. One way of looking at it is this, when faced with injustice there are four basic ways we can respond:

1) Compliance – just go along with it because it’s easier that way
2) Rebellion – fight back in a way that damages yourself while leaving your target unscathed
3) Withdrawal – check out of the situation
4) Resistance – fight back in such a way as to change the situation

Compliance is, of course, the easiest path to take, but the problem with it is sort of self-apparent. You are participating in and perpetuating the injustice yourself. This does not solve the problem.

Rebellion is often more emotionally satisfying, but it too has its drawbacks. Imagine, for example, you are a student in a public school where students are treated unfairly. You rebel by dropping out. Without a diploma you are at a disadvantage in the job market, but your absence has no little to no effect on the administration of the school you left behind. It might even strengthen their hand, since from here on out they can point to your miserable self as an example of what happens to people who don’t toe the line.

In the life of an individual, withdrawal is often what we turn to if and when we realize rebellion doesn’t work. You don’t go along with the system 100% but you make no effort to fight it, either. You put your head down and tell yourself none of this is your business, anyway, what do you care? The disadvantages of this approach are more subtle. First of all, when you check out of the situation you are depriving yourself of information that might be important. Information you could use to change things, if only you were paying attention. And secondly, when you withdraw, you deprive the world of yourself. Because you just never know, what if you are the one holding the specialized talent or the key insight, the piece of the puzzle that could turn everything upside down?

Through process of elimination if nothing else, that leaves us with resistance as the most desirable approach. Given the stubborn reality of injustice in the world, doing something to change that reality really is the best we can aspire to.

Something I should point out at this time is that resistance is the best approach, but for this same reason it is the most difficult and draining one. It’s hard. It may be easy to commit a single act of resistance, but to sustain it for days, weeks, months, over multiple issues and in the face of constant confrontation takes more inner strength than regular humans are generally equipped with. We cannot all of us be King, or Ghandi.

But the good news is, we don’t have to. Knowing that resistance is always a possibility makes all of our choices real choices. This is what is important. We can say:

"I will obey this time because this issue is not where I choose to make my stand."
"I will rebel, even if it accomplishes nothing, because I am feeling self-indulgent today."
"I will withdraw now to conserve my strength, but return tomorrow with my eyes open."

What is important is to be aware of our choices, to be aware that we have choices. To be, in the words of one of my favorite people, "non-self-deluding."

Having made my arguments for resistance, I will take up non-violence in Part II.

Posted by egalia for Sadie B.